By Scott Anecito
We live in an age where politics approaches us from all sides. No longer are we limited to just being bombarded with political ads on billboards and benches as we drive by, listening to a radio DJ comment about the latest controversial political issue or watching a sitcom in our house only to see a politician try to humorously portray the person he is running against in a negative light. Rather, we are now greeted when opening up Facebook to invites to political groups, some Youtube wall post involving some form of mudslinging and misinformation, and demographically targeted ads. Politicians are more or less able to target us anywhere now, and as a result of being feed information, correct or not, both in reality and virtual reality, our sense of political truth has become blurred.
Part of the problem is that now we are feed what we crave. For example, Google knows your shopping and searching habits and create a demographic profile of sorts based on this data to predict your likes and dislikes. This data builds upon itself quickly as you naturally click on links and ads of interest. Facebook does it too, but has only recently been able to figure out how to take advantage of the vast demographic data potential to be used for targeted ads. What Facebook can do better than Google is figure out why you don’t like a certain ad. You can exit the ad, and mark it as ‘uninteresting’, ‘misleading’, ‘offensive’, ‘repetitive’, or ‘other’. This allows for much better targeting as a politician might have two different themed ads, and the targeted person in question might not like one because they find it offensive, but like the other. It allows for how the user thinks to be more incorporated into targeting them rather than Google’s method of just using statistics.
America has witnessed an increasing usage of war based analogies and terminology applied to politics, abet subliminally. One could argue that war terminology has always been with politics since the beginning, given that the term ‘campaign’ was derived from the idea of a ‘war campaign’ and used during the foundation of our nation. However, recently in January of 2011, America witnessed a targeted shooting of Arizona congresswoman Giffords. Almost instantly Sarah Palin received heavy criticism for one of her ‘campaign’ pictures pictured below. Both her strong word choice of “It’s time to take a stand” coupled with the use of crosshairs on politicians that need to removed in her opinion were believed by the press to be the primary cause for the shooting.
However, given what we now know about the shooter, both the fact that he took illegal drugs and that his classmates and family believed him to be mentally unstable, it is unfair to place all of the blame on Palin. At the same time though, it is important to realize that after Palin was criticized, she removed both that picture and ones similar to it, most likely indicating that despite her stance that the picture(s) had nothing to do with the shooting, they were at least influential in some manner such as subliminally promoting aggression. Then there’s the ‘tweets’ that she made during midterms such as “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” which also seem to suggest an overly aggressive manner to approaching politics.
There’s no doubt it’s not just Sarah Palin though, undoubtedly there are other politicians who consciously or unconsciously use similar messages. The problem is that we essentially self feed ourselves these messages through mediums like the internet and social media sites. Unfortunately the American public seems to be unaware of what is going on in the political sphere. To use a quote from the movie Inception, “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” In this case, the ‘dream’ is this sense that politics and handle we handle them are fine and the ‘waking up’ is when Congresswoman Giffords was shot. It was only then that we began to question how much subliminal aggression towards one another is injected to the media we consume. If we are to prevent political related violence in the future, politicians and people must make active efforts to understand the media they produce and consume.